This is a recap of the best movies I saw in 2017 that I hadn’t seen before. It was a good year (for movies).
I was thrilled to “discover” some women filmmakers’ whose work I wasn’t familiar with (Andrea Arnold, especially) and to watch more Akerman and Varda. I often found myself thinking about “performance”—as in, the thing an actor does that becomes notable, or is notable precisely because it isn’t. I’m not a fan of the Daniel Day-Lewis type . . . thing. I much prefer Robert Bresson’s rejection of the actorliness of actors:
ÊTRE (modèles) au lieu de PARAÎTRE (acteurs).
[BEING (models) instead of SEEMING (actors).]
I generally admire the work of those who use non-actors or not-well-known actors in their films—Bruno Dumont, for example, though he disappointed me terribly by using Juliette Binoche in his Camille Claudel 1915, a film I avoided for a long time out of fears that, turns out, were justified.
All this points to my appreciating restraint, silence, and an absence of gimmickry in the craft of acting. But then there are plenty of performances I love which have none of that. I mean, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy? Divine? James Gandolfini? So genre has something to do with it, but still it’s difficult to say what precisely “it” is, except that it’s inevitably thrown into relief by the ever-perplexing Anglophone awards season that’s now under way. (Isn’t the winner basically always either Meryl Streep or Charlize Theron in “ugly” makeup?)
Anywho, these are my favorite performances from movies I saw in 2017: Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth, Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Ivan Dobronravov in The Return, James Howson in Wuthering Heights, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, Nicole Kidman in Birth, Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils, Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, and the truly gifted and greatly under-valued Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer:
Even movies I didn’t entirely love but appreciated for some reason or other (and often the reason was the casting) showcased some utterly moving work by actors: Ben Whishaw’s John Keats in Bright Star and Cynthia Nixon’s Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion; James Wilby and Rupert Graves in Maurice; and Ezra Miller as the psychopath progeny of Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin—Miller shall soon appear, I predict, in an Anne Rice-Sally Potter’s Orlando-pastiche about a fashionable vampire coming to terms with this ability to hang out in graveyards in daylight.
I despise Lars von Trier (except for the first season of The Kingdom) and Breaking the Waves is full of Trierisms, but Emily Watson kept me watching to the end.
OK, back to the movies:
Chantal Akerman. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Belgium, 1975.
Andrea Arnold. Wuthering Heights. UK, 2011.
Terence Davies. The House of Mirth. UK/USA, 2000.
Aleksey Fedorchenko. Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari. Russia, 2012.
William Friedkin. The French Connection. USA, 1971.
Jonathan Glazer. Birth. UK, 2004.
Todd Haynes. Poison. USA, 1991.
Alfred Hitchcock. The Birds. USA, 1963.
David Lynch. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. USA, 1992.
Yasujirō Ozu. Tokyo Story. Japan, 1953.
Jordan Peele. Get Out. USA, 2017.
Éric Rochant. Les patriotes. France, 1994.
Éric Rohmer. Le genou de Claire. France, 1970.
Ken Russell. The Devils. UK, 1971.
Josef von Sternberg. The Blue Angel. Germany, 1930.
Andrey Tarkovsky. Stalker. USSR, 1979.
Agnès Varda. Le bonheur. France, 1965.
Andrey Zvyagintsev. The Return. Russia, 2003.
Andrey Zvyagintsev. Leviathan. Russia, 2014.
Good and/or Interesting Movies
Jane Campion. Bright Star. UK/Australia, 2009.
Terence Davies. A Quiet Passion. UK, 2016.
Brian De Palma. Sisters. USA, 1972.
Saul Dibb. The Duchess. UK, 2008.
Raoul Peck. I Am Not Your Negro. France/USA, 2016.*
Lynne Ramsay. We Need to Talk About Kevin. UK/USA, 2011.
Albert Serra. La mort de Louis XIV. France, 2016.
Michael Showalter. Hello, My Name Is Doris. USA, 2015.
Paul Verhoeven. Hollow Man. USA, 2000.
Denis Villeneuve. Arrival. USA, 2016.
Lars von Trier. Breaking the Waves. Denmark, 1996. (OK, fine, I’ll include this here.)
*I should say here that James Baldwin’s text, Baldwin himself, the archival footage, and Samuel L. Jackson’s narration are extraordinary. But the montage and those weird “recreation” bits were not. It’s like the director wasn’t willing to let the materials speak. More archival footage, less palm trees in the sun.
I’m not one-hundred-percent certain these are all Merchant-Ivory collaborations, but they seemed like they were. I’d had this sudden nostalgia for Wings of the Dove, so I saw that one again, and also Howard’s End, and then I saw some I’d never seen before—
James Ivory. The Europeans. UK, 1979.
James Ivory. The Bostonians. UK/USA, 1984.
James Ivory. Maurice. UK, 1987.
Of these, Maurice was my favorite, perhaps due to the unusual nature of the source material itself (I had no idea E. M. wrote about gay love and, indeed, this novel was published only posthumously).
The Bostonians was astonishing, Vanessa Redgrave especially, but the pro–stalker stance at the end upset me and I still don’t know what to make of it and am afraid to read the novel.
Next, I’ll be watching the Ivory-scripted Call Me By Your Name. Is it good?
A Bearable Spielberg
Steven Spielberg. Empire of the Sun. USA, 1987.
Bruno Dumont. Camille Claudel 1915. France, 2013.
Jim Jarmusch. Paterson. USA, 2016.
Natalie Leite. M.F.A. USA, 2017.
Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Crooked House. UK, 2017.
In order: it’s as though casting Juliette Binoche as Camille Claudel made Dumont write psychology instead of philosophy. Paterson has some decent aspects, like the bus-driver-poet guy and the Ron Padgett involvement, but the poet’s girlfriend is kind of a manic pixie dream girl, and then there was this:
No, dickhead (=whoever wrote that dialogue, not the actor, who I hoped was compensated appropriately for having to pretend Japan isn’t filled with incredible translators), it isn’t.
Crooked House was a romp, if you consider Agatha Christie a romp, which I do. But the detective guy is played by one severely under-talented Max Irons. Yes, Max Irons. As in the child of Sinéad Cusack and Jeremy Irons. They’ll take this allowance away, won’t they?
The poster for M.F.A.—
—was ever so promising and the first fifteen minutes boded well for the rest of the film. But it went downhill and preachy very quickly.
I watched The Craft again out of nostalgia. It was fantastic. I finally saw the Ab Fab movie, which was a blast, but I’ll always love the show more. I saw Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love again to test a theory that maybe I’d judged the movie and therefore Wong too quickly when I first saw it a decade or so ago. This second viewing did not change my opinion that it’s all very shallow while claiming to be profound. But if you go with the shallow (flow?), the movie is very seductive in that seductive fashion editorial way. I also saw À bout de souffle again and won’t be doing that again. I thought Wonder Woman was dumb.
Not Disappointments Because I Knew They Were Going to be Crap
David Fincher. Gone Girl. USA, 2014.
Martin Scorsese. Silence. USA, 2016.